Other candidates for House Speaker will emerge, but they will all face similar difficulties to those that plagued Scalise (and former Speaker McCarthy before that). (UBS)

On Wednesday, House Republicans nominated House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) to serve as speaker in a 113-99 vote. Last night, Scalise withdrew his nomination after it was clear he would not get the votes needed to secure his nomination on the House floor.

What’s Next? No one knows. House Republicans are in complete disarray and are without an effective backup plan. Other candidates will emerge, but they will all face similar difficulties to those that plagued Scalise (and former Speaker McCarthy before that). Desperation could drive a more obscure candidate to emerge and win, but that is not where we are today.

Why the Opposition? There were 20-30 House Republicans who would not commit to Scalise for one reason or another. Some reasons were personal (some just didn’t like Scalise or viewed him as part of the leadership team that they believe was ineffective). Some were committed only to other candidates and would not change their commitments. Others demanded changes to the annual budget and government spending processes that they felt Scalise wouldn’t deliver. Others do not believe Scalise will fundamentally change how the House operates. These opponents will have to be mollified in some way by any new speaker, which won’t be easy considering their diverse concerns. They can hold out and remain stubborn given Republicans’ very slight majority in the House and the reality that practically every Republican vote is needed to elect a Republican speaker.

Congressman Patrick McHenry. McHenry was designated to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore, a temporary position with limited authority. How limited his authorities are is subject to debate. McHenry potentially could be in this position for the next few weeks or months as Republicans work to settle their differences and elect a speaker. Given that, there is an effort underway now to clarify and enhance his authorities, but this effort too faces some opposition. McHenry is likely not a viable candidate to become the elected speaker due to his close relationship with former Speaker McCarthy, but he could see his duties expanded temporarily in a way that would alleviate the current untenable situation a bit.

Is Bipartisanship Possible? There are conversations occurring among the more moderate House Republicans and Democrats about potential agreements to end this stalemate, but we don’t view this as a likely compromise at this time. Democrats likely would want some sort of a power-sharing arrangement, but every Republican would be opposed to that. In our view, the only bipartisan option that could work would be for a handful of House Democrats to support a Republican speaker and that is not in the cards at this time.

Kevin McCarthy. Ten days have passed since the House ousted hm in a 216-210 vote. McCarthy had the support of 210 Republicans (95%) in this vote. Can any Republican do better than that? As of today, no. The vote to oust him looks like a more disastrous decision as each day passes.

Impact on Pending Policy Priorities. As of yet, there hasn’t been much impact on big policy priorities. The government will face a shutdown if funding isn’t approved by November 17. A large funding bill to aid Israel is expected, but it will take a couple of weeks to determine what aid is needed. Funding for Israel and Ukraine will likely be tied to the government funding bill. The House needs to have its act together in the next two weeks in order for the current leadership vacuum not to negatively impact action on needed funding priorities.

Larger Impact. The larger impact that this dysfunction is embarrassing the US and its system of governance. It tarnishes America’s reputation at a time it is being counted on for leadership and stability.

For more, read Washington Weekly 13 October 2023.

Approval Date: 10/13/2023
Expiration: 10/31/2024
Review Code: IS2306169